At first people thought this was a spoof, until the government confirmed even the cynics worst fears: that it was real.
Considered as offensive to a large cohort of the population, the political opposition embraced this as their silver bullet in a campaign to brand the present government as out of touch with the people. But what was this advert trying to do?
Let us brush aside the rights and wrongs of political swings for a moment. This ad is hoping to address working families. If we consider working families as a reference group, the hope is that they will see that the government understands them and is directly influencing their lives for the better. If they feel this way, and recognise that it is a conservative government doing that, hopefully their loyalty to the conservative ‘brand’ will grow. Labour unions and political parties do this all the time, however usually they are more successful at identifying a common denominator in a reference group.
A lot of critics have said that the principle of the bingo ad is good, however the wording actually separates the sponsor (the conservative party) from its target audience. Change the word ‘they’ to ‘we’ and then see if it makes you feel any different…
As it is, it conveys the high society Tories looking down on Mr and Mrs Serf and granting them a few extra liberties down on the bottom rung of the British caste system. In addition however, I look at it and think it is very overgeneralising of a group of people in society – a point that no one else seems to have mentioned.
Should it have worked had the conservative party decided to identify with their electorate?
Escalas & Bettman (2005) argue that individuals, to construct their self-concepts, use brands associated with reference groups. When the advert conveys an image that is congruent to the image on an in-group, consumers start to bond with the brand.
There is more to reference group advertising however, than just appealing to an individuals group membership to create a brand connection. Part of the utility of a product or service is what it does for your standing in the group. Bearden and Etzel (1982) demonstrate that there is more leverage from the factors influencing brands that are publicly consumed. Simply put, decisions (either for or against) are made more sensitively when it affects ones image or standing in a reference group.
This can be either good or bad, depending on what the product or reference group is, but the principle is that the involvement of reference groups can make factors contributing to success of the ad a lot more volatile.
To bring it back to the conservative party’s advert, if the reference group is offended, people will consider their loyalty to the conservative party in light of their self image. Even before the bad press, the advert has done its sponsor a disservice. Use of the word ‘they’ over ‘we’ has also separated the public from bonding with the brand, meaning that the wrong use of a tiny (almost meaningless word), and maybe some overgeneralisation, makes this a bad ad.